It is with a heavy heart and much sadness that I begin this final recap of our last day in Israel. Because you see... I still vividly remember waking up on that eleventh morning and realizing our trip would soon be over. And that's immediately how my heart felt... heavy and sad. I wasn't ready to leave, y'all. The thought of saying goodbye to Ami and Geora was making me cry. And the thought of flying away and watching Israel slowly fade away in the distance was breaking my heart. I had to push the sad goodbyes to the back of my mind, because we had ONE MORE DAY!!!
But I'll tell ya' something that wasn't making me cry... the idea of leisurely walking the streets of Jerusalem, more Israeli food and an obscene amount of shopping! Ha! And that's exactly what was on the agenda for the day! Even though Mr. Atchley and I had slept in later than usual, we were still up early enough to enjoy a big, delicious Israeli breakfast! And don't bother asking me, because I'll never tell how many flaky rugelachs (chocolate croissants) I inhaled that morning. But I'll admit to savoring every single sip of coffee they served me. Have I mentioned the fact that Israel has the best coffee in the world?!?! It's true!!! I think it's because "holy water" must flow straight outta the tap in Jerusalem! Ha!
Before we left the hotel, we stopped back by Creations to pick up the jewelry I had ordered! John, the owner's son, had it all ready for me! I was so excited to finally get a necklace with my name spelled out in Hebrew! Isn't it beautiful?
After getting directions from the concierge at the hotel, we started our walk and made our way towards the popular Ben Yehuda Street, known for its pedestrian-style mall and sidewalk cafes. I mean, who cares that this particular street has a reputation in Israel for being a prime target for terrorist bombings??? That wasn't gonna stop this girl from spending her last remaining shekels! No way Jose'! I was ready to shop, y'all!
(And honestly, if God truly felt it was my time to die, people... I at least wanted to go with a smile on my face in the heart of Jerusalem with shopping bags in my hands!!!) *wink*
Now thankfully, Ben Yehuda Street is closed to automobile traffic... so we wouldn't have to dodge all the crazy drivers trying to cram their cars onto its tiny and narrow streets! Once we turned the corner and found it... I immediately fell in love with the area! There were street musicians, lots of Mama's pushing their babies in strollers, quaint little souvenir shops and more bakeries than you could shake a stick at! The sweet aroma of freshly baked doughnuts, bagels and pastries filled the air! Oh yeah, this was my kinda hang-out spot!
Mr. Atchley quickly informed me that he was on a mission to stock up on IDF t-shirts, stickers, hats... anything that had to do with the Israeli military... he needed to buy it! So, he browsed a few Israeli Army-Navy surplus stores while I window shopped and people-watched. It was such a pretty day to take a stroll and see the area. And by the way, I haven't mentioned this yet... but when folks shop in Israel (especially tourists), the shop owners expect for you to try and "haggle" with them on pricing and get the best bargain you think you can get. Israel is a modern nation, but it is the Middle East after all. Now my hubby and I had heard stories and read that if you haggle politely and respectfully, you hardly ever have to pay full price for anything! Well, this is where y'all are gonna get SO tickled at us... shhhh... don't tell anybody... but Mr. Atchley and I just adored all those sweet and precious shop owners so much... that we happily paid full price for almost everything we purchased! Bahaha! And you should have seen their faces... they just kept waiting for us to try and suggest a cheaper price... but we were just so eager to bless them and give them what they were asking! Luckily, we never encountered any barracudas looking to rip us off! Ha!
After we had walked for awhile and worked up an appetite... Mr. Atchley's eagle-eyes spotted one of the most important loves of his life... pizza! He was hungry and wanted to see what pizza in Israel tasted like, so we sat down and shared a slice! Now he had unknowingly picked a kosher pizzeria... so no mixing meat and cheese! But we were happy to enjoy a slice of cheese pizza, and it tasted delicious. And hey, even this stray cat was eyeballing our treat, hoping for some leftovers. (That cat obviously didn't realize that to my husband, pizza and leftovers do not belong in the same sentence!)
|Big Apple Pizza in Jerusalem! Delish!|
|That cat better keep on walkin' if it values its life! Ha!|
Here are a few other photo's I snapped while we walked around and soaked in the beautiful surroundings:
|FYI... I would totally live here!|
|Such a relaxing street to take an afternoon stroll!|
At one point, we passed a small market and I was curious to go inside and see what it was like! So we went in to browse and walk the aisles. I saw some familiar and some not-so-familiar items! Take a look:
|They sell milk in BAGS, y'all!!!|
|The aroma from the coffee section was intoxicating!|
|And yes, Israel sells some of my favorite brands of cereal...|
so I could totally live and survive there!
I also spied this really hot and buff guy in the store, and even spent some time flirting with him. I don't think he was Jewish, but I found out he was already married...
After looking at all the food for sale on the grocery store shelves, we were ready to eat again! Ha!
We found a popular corner cafe and went inside to see what was being served! And of course, they had all the usual amazing stuff!
|Carbs, glorious carbs!!!|
Come to Mama!
I finally decided on a toasted bagel with cream cheese and Mr. Atchley ordered each of us a coffee with milk (we call them lattes in America) and an assortment of pastries/cookies. When they brought out our food... my eyeballs almost popped out of my head! Just feast your eyes, y'all:
Now this place served the world's best bagel. I don't know how they make them in Jerusalem, but it tasted unlike any other bagel I've ever eaten in my life! Mercy, it was delicious and loaded with cream cheese! (sorry, no pic because it didn't last that long)
So, right after I won the prize for inhaling an entire bagel in under 20 seconds, we looked at our watches and realized we better make our way back to the hotel and start packing our suitcases and getting everything ready to load on the bus. We needed to drop off all of our belongings in the lobby before we headed down to our farewell banquet, so that we could immediately leave for the airport once dinner was over.
After we carefully packed up all our stuff, we checked out of the room and then delivered our bags to the staff in the lobby. Once again, we were trusting the bellhop's to get all of our suitcases loaded up on Geora's bus while we dined at what Mr. Atchley and I jokingly referred to as the "last supper".
And wow, can I just say... the restaurant staff outdid themselves that night! They had a private banquet room for us and had decorated the tables up so pretty and had a fabulous menu planned for our "last supper" in Israel! Y'all, everything was perfect and delicious. And I'll admit... my appetite really wasn't the best because it was really starting to hit me that we were indeed leaving... but I still managed to take a few bites here and there because everything was so delicious and prepared for us so lovingly!
|Our beautiful table at the farewell dinner!|
|What an amazing menu!|
(and hello... hot chocolate cake!)
|We love you, Lukey and Cody!|
So proud of these young men!
And sitting across from me were Pastor John and Miss Linda... and my heart just ached for them because I knew this was their last group trip to Israel. I couldn't even begin to imagine what emotions they must be feeling. After 27 trips to this beautiful land and sharing their heart and love for Israel... it was officially coming to an end for them.
My sweet husband was sitting to the left of me... oh, how blessed I am to call him mine. I'll never be able to thank him enough for providing this trip and for bringing me to Israel. He made a dream of mine a reality... and I love him dearly for it! Now seated next to Mr. Atchley was Ami, our rock star tour guide and then Geora, our new best friend. Y'all, it took me exactly one full day in Israel before I fell in love with both of these men. So many times throughout our trip, I would catch myself just staring at them in awe when they spoke Hebrew to each other, and they utterly mesmerized me. (I could listen to them talk for days; Hebrew is such a gorgeous language!) Ami and Geora are truly amazing men who have the biggest hearts to serve people, offer kindness and teach others about their beloved homeland... and I couldn't believe I would soon be hugging them goodbye.
|Our beloved guide and friend, Amatzia.|
All of those amazing people around the table where Mr. Atchley and I sat... they became our family on this trip. Because truly, you cannot spend eleven whole days traipsing all over the nation of Israel with folks and not end up absolutely loving them to pieces by the end of the journey! Our experiences and memories in Israel will bind us together forever!
Once the staff cleared our dinner plates, we continued the fun by celebrating Cody's 18th birthday! The restaurant staff brought out cake and sang happy birthday just for him!
|Cody! Turning 18 in Israel! No better place to celebrate!|
And luckily, he sat pretty close to me, so I got unlimited bites of his delicious slice of cake! *wink*
Finally, Pastor John got up and spoke to the group for a bit, gave us our final travel instructions... and then spent a few special moments showering Ami and Geora with hugs and tons of praise for the true rock star's that they are. By the end, I'm fairly certain everyone in the room was in full blown "ugly cry" mode.
|Geora, Pastor John and Ami|
And then... for the last time, we loaded up on the bus... found our seats... and commenced with the quietest ride ever back to Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. Ami kept turning around in his seat, looking at us and whispering "Don't be sad... you must all come back." And many of us promised him, we would most definitely return! Because one trip to Israel in a lifetime is not enough! Lord willing... we WILL go back... someday!!!
I know I've told you about the very best parts of our trip... but this bus ride was definitely the worst part of our trip to Israel!!! I may have even secretly prayed that the bus would break down or something so that we could stay just a few hours longer. But, it didn't happen. The ride felt entirely too short, because before we knew it... Geora was pulling up to the airport.
I tightly hugged Geora goodbye as I got off the bus, and caught Ami's eye as he was standing on the curb helping folks get their bags. I couldn't help but cry as I hugged Ami goodbye, and I told him that if he ever found himself in East Texas... that he was welcome to come stay at our house because now... he was family to us! Through watery eyes, he grinned big, winked at me and then said with his thick Hebrew accent, "Yes, but I bring 20 Jewish cousins with me!" And then we both laughed as I assured him we would happily make room for all of them at our house!
Once inside the airport, we had to go through some of the tightest security in the world. The Israeli's do not fool around y'all. They are polite, efficient and organized... but nothing gets by them, you can be sure of that. They screened us, our luggage, asked us very detailed questions about our trip... and yes, we even observed quite a bit of racial profiling. And whether you agree or disagree with their methods, their security is effective and thorough and hands down... the best in the world. The United States could learn a lesson or two on how it should really be done. I've never been more impressed with airport security in my life than I was at Ben Gurion in Tel Aviv.
We eventually made it on the plane, found our seats and settled in for the long flight back to the USA. On this flight, there was no singing or dancing... just pure sadness and exhaustion that filled our bodies and minds. And gradually, as the airplane climbed higher and higher into the clouds... I watched Israel become a tiny little speck out my window.
Now most of you won't understand what I'm about to say next... but almost six months later since returning to Texas... I still dream about Israel almost every night while I sleep. In one way or another, I see the faces of the people we met or remember the places we visited, and I can hear their voices vividly and smell the air... in my sleep, I'm back in Jerusalem.
And each time I wake up and realize I was only dreaming... I feel so homesick that it physically hurts my heart. Yes, that's right. I am homesick for Israel. Only God knows why I feel the way I do, but He also knows I'm trusting in Him that someday, somehow... I'll once again lay my eyes on that beautiful city known as Zion.